Monday, August 12, 2013

Not impossible: re-covering a vintage SX-70

A few years ago, engulfed in a wave of mania for instant photography whipped up by the Impossible Project going live, I purchased a classic SX-70 Polaroid camera (ok, actually I purchased two, but let's not talk about that.)
This second camera worked great -- the Alpha 1 model 2 has some fantastic upgrades over the original model that make it much nicer to work with.  (Things like a strap, tripod socket, and a split prism for focusing -- really essential stuff.)  Since then, I've run more than a dozen 8-exposure packs of Impossible film through it with great results.  
There was one problem, however: the vintage leatherette covering was pretty decrepit, so the camera was not too good aesthetically.

But, all was not lost.  I wasn't the only person who had this issue, and I found a few places around the web that manufacture replacement coverings for the camera.  There were a range, including some very nice real leather coverings.  Eventually, however, I chose one of skinslove's offerings, a self-adhesive die-cut vinyl called "Black Rainbow," based on classic Polaroid branding.  Awesome!
One problem did remain: actually putting it on.  The research I did was a bit discouraging.  After the packet showed up, I sat on it for a few months, but eventually I worked up the courage to get started.

Two of the techniques discussed on the web seemed promising.  One suggested leaving the camera soaking in isopropyl alcohol overnight, wrapped in a plastic bag.  The idea here was to dissolve some of the old adhesive, and also to thoroughly wet the old covering to fight crumbling.  Some people did worry about the alcohol seeping into the camera's workings, however.
The other suggestion was the heat gun -- this is the way I went, since a heat gun can be applied a bit more precisely.  I heated each panel gently to soften the ancient adhesive, then used a painter's knife to slowly peel and scrape away the covering. 

As you can see, it was a messy process -- the old leatherette simply shredded as I removed it.  The mini Dyson came in very handy managing this.  However, I was able to get most of the panels off in large pieces.

The amazing thing about this was that the old adhesive was somehow still tacky after 35 years or so of service -- which meant that its removal was a second painstaking process, depending on Goo-gone, paper towels, and ton of cotton swabs.

I applied blue painter's tape in a few places where it seemed like there were holes underneath the panels, to keep any detritus from entering.  It seemed to do the trick.

Once everything was clean, applying the decals was fairly simple - I just put them on, one at a time, very carefully.  Self-adhesive vinyl tends to be pretty tolerant of adjustments, and a few panels did require some fine-tuning, but eventually went on just fine.  One small complaint was that the bottom-front panel seemed to be just a tiny bit small -- one edge of the metal plate you can see in the photo above is still visible after installation.

 However, the camera is much more presentable than it was previously, and all it took was about $30 for a new decal, 2-3 hours of time, and a few of the old standbys from the toolbox.  I've run a couple of packs of Impossible through it since with no ill effects, and it's really nice to do so without the covering flaking off.

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